The Development of American Agriculture

The Development of American Agriculture: A Historical Analysis

Willard W. Cochrane
Copyright Date: 1993
Edition: NED - New edition, Second
Pages: 520
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsjt9
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Development of American Agriculture
    Book Description:

    The classic historical study of American agricultural economic development, thoroughly revised and updated. “Not only describes but analyzes and explains the economic behavior of agriculture as a functional sector of the economy in the process of economic development. . . . There is no substitute.” --James T. Bonnen

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8522-6
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
    (pp. ix-x)
    Willard W. Cochrane
  4. PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Willard W. Cochrane
  5. I. Introduction
    • CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW
      (pp. 3-10)

      Economic development is a popular subject these days. The role of agriculture in the development process has been explored in numerous studies. But in the main, these explorations have been limited to less developed countries and regions and to the post-World War II era. It is also true that the long historical development of American agriculture is poorly understood and appreciated by many people with close ties to agriculture — farm people themselves, professional agriculturalists, agribusiness leaders, and political leaders from rural areas. The words and acts of these people often seem to suggest that the present-day agricultural sector of the...

  6. II. Agricultural Development:: A Chronological History
    • CHAPTER 2 THE COLONIAL PERIOD: 1607–1775
      (pp. 13-36)

      Three ships outfitted by a private firm, the Virginia Company, left London bound for the New World in December 1606 carrying 144 colonists, or adventurers. The Virginia Company was instructed by King James I to locate its settlements somewhere between the thirtyeighth and forty-first parallels, or roughly between what is now the entrance to the Potomac River and Long Island. The ships carrying the little band of colonists actually dropped anchor in the James River, somewhat south of the thirty-eighth parallel, in late April 1607. After searching the area, the colonists decided on May 13, 1607, to settle on the...

    • CHAPTER 3 BREAKING OUT OF THE ATLANTIC SEABOARD: 1775–1820
      (pp. 37-56)

      In the late colonial period the king of Great Britain and a half dozen English noblemen held title to the vacant land beyond the settlements. The holdings of the king included the ungranted lands of New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, and the southern half of North Carolina. The royal claims also covered all the present states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, and parts of West Virginia and Tennessee. This was an empire of some 380 million acres. The heirs of William Penn claimed the unoccupied lands of Pennsylvania; Lord Fairfax claimed a...

    • CHAPTER 4 FROM PIONEERING TO COMMERCIALIZATION: 1820–1860
      (pp. 57-77)

      The Land Law of 1820, it will be recalled, reduced the minimum acreage that an individual could buy at an auction of public land to eighty acres. But it also abolished all credit provisions in the purchase of public lands. The Land Law of 1820, thus, did not immediately stimulate the sales of public lands. In fact, such sales fell to a low of some 650,000 acres in 1823 as compared with the previous high of 3.5 million acres in 1818. However, the more liberal provisions of the law with regard to the minimum size tract of land that could...

    • CHAPTER 5 THE LAST FRONTIER: 1860–1897
      (pp. 78-98)

      With the exception of a few valleys along the Pacific Coast and the Mormon settlements in Utah, all the Great West between the Pacific Ocean and a line drawn roughly from Saint Paul to Fort Worth awaited agricultural exploitation in 1860. This was the farmers’ last frontier. It was not, however, an unknown land. It had been thoroughly explored by the fur traders, army units, and adventurers of all kinds. Immigrants from the Midwest and the East in long wagon trains had trudged across it in the 1840s and 1850s seeking fertile lands in Oregon, gold in California, and religious...

    • CHAPTER 6 PROSPERITY AND DEPRESSION: 1897–1933
      (pp. 99-121)

      This period begins in the trough of one of the most severely economically depressed periods of the nineteenth century and ends in the trough of the greatest depression, to date, of the twentieth century. But much happened between those two trough years.

      The years 1897 to 1910 were years of sustained economic recovery for American agriculture. Farm prices rose every year during that thirteen-year period; they rose steadily but not dramatically; and they rose relative to nonfarm prices (i.e., farm prices rose more than nonfarm prices). In this favorable economic milieu, with the physical hardships of the pioneering days largely...

    • CHAPTER 7 THE TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION: 1933–1970
      (pp. 122-149)

      The farm economy was in a deep depression as this period began. The bottom of the Great Depression was perhaps reached in 1932; prices received by farmers reached a low point in that year, as did the level of industrial production. But economic recovery was slow in the years that followed. This was true for both the farm and the nonfarm sectors. Farm prices and incomes rose slowly in the period 1933–37 and then fell again in 1938–39 (figure 7.1).

      Net income per farmaveraged$454 per year in the period 1930–34 and did not rise above...

    • CHAPTER 8 U.S. AGRICULTURE IN A WORLD MARKET: 1970–1990
      (pp. 150-170)

      The export market has played an important role in the development of American agriculture, as well as in the development of the nation, since colonial times. The export of tobacco, fish, furs, grain, and rum supported the economic development of the colonies up to the time of the American Revolution. From 1820 to 1860 cotton was the preeminent export of the young nation, accounting for 50 percent or more of total exports. After the Civil War, in the period 1870–90, cotton exports declined relative to expanding grain exports, but those two commodities, with assistance from items like leather, meat...

  7. III. The Forces of Development and Structural Change
    • CHAPTER 9 ABUNDANT LAND
      (pp. 173-188)

      A bundant land — cheap or free, distributed with or without corruption — served as an important stimulus to the overall development of this nation. Land was the magnet that drew the first settlers to English colonies, once the bubble of instant riches had been pricked. It was the magnet that continued to draw them to these shores for almost three centuries. And it was the magnet that drew settlers into the wilderness, over the Appalachians, and across the continent in one century following the Revolutionary War. To the landless and land-hungry people of Western Europe the pull of cheap or free...

    • CHAPTER 10 FARM MECHANIZATION AND TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCE
      (pp. 189-208)

      From the day the first English settler stepped ashore in colonial Virginia until the closing of the frontier, the human labor available to develop the abundant land resources was in short supply. Relative to the land resources awaiting development, labor was scarce. In colonial days settlers tried in numerous ways to augment their supply of labor. (See chapter 2.) But in view of the development tasks confronting each pioneer farmer and the young nation, there was a continuous shortage of labor. The money costs of hired labor on the frontier were prohibitively expensive, since every young man, or young family,...

    • CHAPTER 11 BUILDING PHYSICAL INFRASTRUCTURE: Transport and Other Elements
      (pp. 209-234)

      Infrastructure is defined by the dictionary as “the basic, underlying framework, or features, of a system, as the military installations, communications, and transport facilities of a country.” In economic parlance the term “infrastructure” is used to refer to inputs and services that are controlled by society and that are external to the firms or persons making use of them. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with “social overhead capital.” The inquiry in this chapter is concerned with the role ofphysicalinfrastructure in agricultural development.1 Physical infrastructure as it relates to the agricultural sector is defined as “the physical capital,...

    • CHAPTER 12 BUILDING SOCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE: Education and Research
      (pp. 235-257)

      The Puritan settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony had an abiding faith in education. But the purposes of education in the early years of the colony were not those ascribed to education in the present day. The purposes of education were not to undergird the democratic process or to foster new ideas or to promote creativeness; they were to teach children discipline and to reinforce the religious orthodoxy of the puritans. The acts of 1642 and 1647, which required all parents and masters to teach children and apprentices to read and write and to establish schools in every town of...

    • CHAPTER 13 INTERNATIONAL INPUTS
      (pp. 258-277)

      To settlers of colonial America, international trade and commerce were the natural result of their geographic location and state of economic development. The early colonists were highly dependent upon the mother country for basic supplies and manufactured goods of all kinds; thus they had to find, and did find or produce, raw products — furs, timber, fish, and tobacco — for shipment to England as payment for their supplies. The colonists did not confine their interests to that narrow coastline stretching from Maine to Georgia, as those of us engaged in a study of colonial America are prone to do. The American...

    • CHAPTER 14 ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY
      (pp. 278-306)

      The West Europeans who came to North America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, first as explorers and then as colonists, found a continent rich in resources, climatically hospitable to human beings, and of extraordinary physical diversity. That part of the continent that was to become the United States stretched some three thousand miles from the Atlantic to the Pacific and some twelve hundred miles from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border. Traveling east across the U.S. portion of the continent one encounters first a coastal plain, narrow in the North and wider in the South, and then...

    • CHAPTER 15 THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
      (pp. 307-334)

      Government has been involved in almost every aspect of agricultural development discussed in part III up to this point: in the development and execution of land policies, in the support of technological advance through research and development, in the building of social and physical infrastructure, and in the formulation and execution of immigration and trade policies. Thus one might argue that government, like the air we breathe, is a ubiquitous aspect of social and economic life. Nonetheless, in the nineteenth century governments in much of the Western world, and in the English-speaking nations in particular, sought as a matter of...

    • CHAPTER 16 THE FORCES IN REVIEW
      (pp. 335-351)

      We have identified and discussed seven forces that have influenced importantly the development of American agriculture: (1) Abundant Land, (2) Farm Mechanization and Technological Advance, (3) Physical Infrastructure, (4) Social Infrastructure, (5) International Inputs, (6) Environmental Policy, and (7) Government. And within each of these broad categories are to be found numerous specific influencing forces. For example, under “physical infrastructure” we identified roads and highways, canals and waterways, railroads and water management systems, electric power grids, input supply systems, and product marketing systems. And under “international inputs” we identified the legal system, economic institutions, immigration, foreign capital, and foreign trade....

    • CHAPTER 17 CHANGES IN STRUCTURE, ORGANIZATION, AND PRODUCTIVITY
      (pp. 352-370)

      From the discussion in part II, we know that agricultural development in the nineteenth century was extensive. It was extensive in two senses. First, the nation added one farm after another across the continent. Second, the cultivated area of individual farms grew in size. The first development resulted from the westward movement and settlement. The second resulted from the adoption of horse-powered, laborsaving machinery. In this extensive development, yields per acre did not increase, nor did average output per unit of input. But output per worker increased dramatically.

      With the closing of the frontier, the extensive phase of agricultural development...

    • CHAPTER 18 THE WATERSHEDS OF DEVELOPMENT
      (pp. 371-390)

      On at least two occasions in the history of the American nation the course of agricultural development underwent a significant change. In our terminology, agriculture in its process of development crossed two major watersheds.¹ The first occurred during the period 1763–85, when important changes in land settlement policy could have changed, and briefly did change, the direction of agricultural development. The second occurred during the period 1900–1920, when agriculture made the transition from an essentially extensive form of production to an intensive form. The first we will consider from the perspective of contrasting development alternatives — comparing what might...

  8. IV. A Conceptual Model of Agricultural Development:: 1950-1990
    • CHAPTER 19 THE DEMAND AND SUPPLY COMPONENTS
      (pp. 393-416)

      A great number or facts and various trends nave been presented in this volume as part of a general description of agricultural development in the United States. But except for the watershed hypotheses presented in chapter 18, those facts and trends have not been organized into any kind of general explanation of agricultural development in the United States. What is needed now is a general theory that “explains” how those many facts came about, and the relationships among them, and why the various trends took the shape and the direction that they did. Such a general explanation for the post-World...

    • CHAPTER 20 GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION, CANNIBALISM, AND THE TREADMILL
      (pp. 417-436)

      Farmers, as businessmen, do not like price instability. Great downswings in the level of farm prices, such as occurred in 1929–32, can break and have broken thousands of farmers financially. Commodity price variability operates to create price and income uncertainty in the minds of farmers, hence acts to dampen their price expectations, and as a result they restrict their investments in the farm enterprise.

      As we are aware from the discussions in chapters 6, 7, and 15, farmers began in the 1920s to call upon government to stabilize their industry — to put a price-income support floor under it. In...

    • CHAPTER 21 USING THE MODEL TO UNDERSTAND THE 1970s AND 1980s
      (pp. 437-454)

      In this chapter we will look at the development of American agriculture over the period 1970–90 — a period of extraordinary price and income gyrations — with the help of the economic model conceptualized in the preceding two chapters. We are aware of most of the facts, trends, and developments of this period from the presentations in chapters 8, 17, and 18; thus it is not our purpose to present any new information in this chapter.¹ It is our purpose to organize the facts, trends and developments of this period in accordance with the conceptual model as a way of explaining...

  9. V. Summation
    • CHAPTER 22 SOME CONCLUDING THOUGHTS
      (pp. 457-470)

      In the nearly two-hundred-year period from 1607 to 1775 agriculture in the thirteen colonies developed very slowly. As late as 1760 settlements still hugged the Atlantic coastline, except where they followed accessible rivers inland. Many of the first settlers were adventurers, not farmers; and all had to learn to farm in a strange new land with a dense forest cover, a thin, rocky soil for the most part, and unknown climatic patterns. The first settlers learned how to plant and raise tobacco and corn from the native American Indians. They also brought horses, cattle, and pigs from Europe. And slowly,...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 473-484)
  11. Index
    (pp. 487-500)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 501-501)